When I was a wee lass in the seventies and eighties, I read a lot of bodice ripper romance novels. My oldest sister was my main
dealer supplier, since the library, the bookstore and my mother all deemed me too young to consume such material. I’d hide in my closet or under my covers with the latest fat tome with luridly-colored heaving bosoms on the cover that my sister had “accidentally” left out for me to find–at least that was her excuse to Mom, who apparently had forgotten about the whole Jacqueline Susann thing.
Perhaps my favorite book back then was Dare to Love by Jennifer Wilde. It was a pretty thinly-veiled fictionalized biography of Lola Montez, the eighteenth century exotic dancer who was Irish but claimed to be Spanish. I found it a wildly entertaining story and re-read the book to tatters. While there was some romance novel fluffiness, I liked that it was written pretty straightforwardly. I read some of Wilde’s other books, but nothing was as good as Dare to Love in my teenage opinion.
Back then I had an aunt who subscribed to Life magazine, when it was still a thing. I was at her house idly leafing through an issue when I came across a feature on romance novelists. Being the early eighties, there were the usual suspects–Rosemary Rogers, Kathleen Woodiwiss and the like. At the bottom of the article a familiar name jumped out at me. Jennifer Wilde! However, the first line of Jennifer’s section jumped out even further.
No, Jennifer’s the one with the cigarette.
The person with the cigarette was a middle-aged man with rather impressive mutton chop whiskers. He was posing with his mother, whom I had initially and naturally assumed was the esteemed Ms. Wilde. Fifteen-year-old mind, blown. In fact, Jennifer was Thomas E. Huff, a Texan and a former English teacher who’d written under female pseudonyms for years before finding major success as Jennifer. It was kind of creepy that he was in his early forties and still living with his mother, but I thought it was actually kind of cool that a guy was writing best-selling romance novels.
It wasn’t until recently, when I was working on my own books, that I pinpointed what drew me to Jennifer/Tom–and why I write romance myself. I’ve never been a fan of euphemism, and neither was Tom, although in keeping with the times there had to be some. Tell the story, don’t allude to “throbbing manhoods” and “love grottoes.” I also blame Tom and his friends for making me wordy. When you spend your formative years reading five-hundred-page books, you can’t be blamed for writing them.
I can blame Tom, though. Sadly he died in 1990 at the young age of 52–his obituary actually made my local paper. A couple of years ago I was delighted to discover that Dare to Love was available on Kindle, and for a few hours I relived my adolescence. The book was still good too, even read with twenty-first century eyes.
And not one love grotto. Not one. 😀